The Current Landscape of Drug Shortages


In an interview with Pharma Commerce editor Nicholas Saraceno, Peter Ax, UpScriptHealth's founder and CEO, offers his thoughts surrounding the lack of supply.

PC: According to the American Society of Health-Pharmacists (ASHP), ongoing and active drug shortages are the highest they’ve been since the association began tracking this in 2001. Could you elaborate on why that is, along with sharing your thoughts on the current landscape of shortages in general?

Ax: Well today, there are, by latest count, over 320 drug shortages, and some of those are for very important drugs—cancer related drugs, saline solutions for injectables, ADHD medications, the GLP ones are in short supply—so there’s a lot of very important medications that are in short supply, which is not a good state of affairs if you suffer from any particular ailment where you're trying to get relief. Typically, when you see a shortage in an industry, it's either a demand problem, excessive demand, or it's a supply problem, in that there they can't manufacture enough product. Well, this is sort of a perfect storm right now, in that we have both supply and demand problems. On the demand side of the equation, you have unprecedented development of therapies that are leading to great solutions for people—that have a positive impact on people's lives. And the reality is, that's created a lot of demand for products.

In addition, you have products like weight loss medications and ADHD drugs that are in extremely high demand because they're brand-new remedies and brand-new solutions. You have changing demographics in the population leading to polypharmacy, meaning patients taking multiple medications. It used to be that about 55% of Americans were on some sort of medication (just about four years ago today). Now, about 70% of patients are on medications, and many of those are polypharmacy medications. So there's just a lot of demand which is outstripping any supply.

And to address the supply constraint problems: since the pandemic, there have been supply chain issues. There continue to be; we've seen some relief, but not a lot of relief. You see worker shortage, and that's just not any worker, but a lot of that represents educated workers that understand how to mix drugs, how to work in manufacturing facilities, and clean rooms, etc. Labor is in short supply. Furthermore, because we don't have transparency in this industry, we really don't know what's happening in a lot of the international markets, whether it be China, which manufactures a number of our drugs, Canada, Europe—they all manufacture drugs for the United States, and so we don't really have great insight into what's happening and why there are shortages there, but we assume it’s a lot of the same issues we see in the United States.

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